Wow! I had hoped this week’s blog, Luke Skywalker Must Die, would get fans talking, but I never would have guessed in a million years that my idea for reinvigorating the Star Wars EU out of the doldrums would get such a lengthy discussion on the ForceCast last night.
Overall I thought it was a fair discussion of the blog post, and I was especially delighted to hear Jimmy Mac, the bigger EU fan of the two hosts, expressing his agreement with a lot of the ideas I had raised. Jason brought up a number of interesting comments, too, even if I wasn’t successful in persuading him to see it my way. (Which is fine – I didn’t expect to!) A few points that came up are worth elaborating or clarifying a bit more while they’re still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Who Are The Powers That Be?
Good question by Jason there. It’s a topic I’d discussed in several previous blogs, but I didn’t actually define what I meant this time. In my blogs, I use the Powers That Be label to mean the people calling the shots in the EU. The buck stops with the editorial directors at Lucas Books and Del Rey, but many storytelling decisions come from authors and other contributors, as well.
I’ve been using that broad label because lately it’s been less than clear who’s really running the show. Sometimes the authors like to claim the editors are making them do this or that by edict, but other times they’ll take credit for an idea that’s proven a hit. At the same time, the fans also often get the impression that some authors are working their own agenda, not the franchise’s agenda. And when Allies came out with hundreds of typos, charges of unfair portrayals of female characters, and an exceedingly weak plot, it was suggested by Shelly Shapiro in the Del Rey panel at Celebration V that a lower-tier editor had been charged with the book and that person was at fault. So who knows who exactly the Powers That Be are for any given book within the Star Wars EU team. There has been a lot of dodging and avoidance and not a lot of responsibility-taking since message boards started having an order of magnitude more posts about how the EU is failing fans than what it is doing right.
What I think the Powers That Be need is a good dose of self-reflection and a more accessible public presence. Fans know exactly who to talk to about The Clone Wars; we see its writers, its supervising director, and its actors all over the place. It’s called engaging the fans.
My comments about editorial control also seemed to get Jason rolling. He seemed to assume I was talking about editorial control along the same lines as author Karen Traviss’ complaints, which then led him to lump me in with the similar sentiment expressed in the recent EU petition (that George Lucas is mucking up the EU). I wish Jason had checked his facts before he put them to air, especially if he wants to be taken seriously. I do not in fact support the EU petition. I also believe Lucas has created this universe and it’s his right to call the ball. Ultimately, my stance almost aligns with Jason’s on the issue of George Lucas’ role in Star Wars and the EU. (Although personally I am unwilling to call people “kooks” or disparage their passion for the franchise if their views don’t align with my own.)
The worst thing a franchise can experience is apathy; it means people don’t care anymore. Awareness of this apathy among EU fans has eluded the Powers That Be, because otherwise I think we’d have seen some more movement to address it head on rather than the stay-the-course approach we’re experiencing. As a hardcore EU fan, if you had told me five years ago I’d be more interested in a cartoon series set in the PT than the post-ROTJ novels I would have laughed, then laughed some more. But that’s exactly what’s happened for many fans like myself. I attribute that to two things – George Lucas and Dave Filoni’s teamwork with him. Lucas is the visionary, and Filoni is the man who makes sure the vision is brought to reality. Both elements – a vision-maker and an implementer – are missing right now from the Powers That Be in the EU.
Archetype of an Obstacle
I appreciate that Jason discussed most of the blog, and read quotes from it to let my words speak for themselves instead of just paraphrasing or summarizing. But in his exuberance to tackle some of my ideas, he brushed right over one really important point in the blog: the fact that Luke Skywalker’s presence in the EU has become an obstacle to developing new Hero’s Journeys. Jimmy Mac actually brought up these ideas in another section’s discussion, but the merits of killing the character off were somewhat muted when the most compelling storytelling argument was short-changed. Taking Luke out of the picture will allow the next generation of heroes to flourish in a way they haven’t been able to yet.
I’ll have more to say on Luke Skywalker’s character and what’s gone wrong in an upcoming blog, but the long and short of it is – I don’t think any storyteller if asked would accept that their hero’s universe will cease to exist at the end of the hero’s life. For the galaxy to be worth saving, it has to continue on after Luke is gone. And, like Jimmy Mac and me, there are a lot of fans out there waiting to read those continuing adventure stories.
Luke’s Role in the Star Wars Franchise
Jason’s biggest argument against killing the OT hero was that Luke is Star Wars. I understood before I even wrote the blog that this would be the position of some, and that nothing I could say or do would change their mind. But I think it’s worth saying a bit more about why, although that’s true for some fans, I think it’s not the case for the franchise as a whole.
Even within the movies alone, Luke is only the hero of half of Star Wars. Add TCW into the mix of George Lucas-created Star Wars, and it’s less than half. Hasbro is selling a lot more toys in the TCW line than in the Vintage line with the OT characters. Then look at LucasArts and their biggest successes: no Luke in KOTOR or KOTOR II, or The Force Unleashed, or Jedi Academy. No Luke in the upcoming The Old Republic MMO, and the interest in the news and beta testing has been huge. For Dark Horse comics, both Legacy and Knights of the Old Republic had much bigger sales than the titles featuring Luke, like Rebellion, Empire, and Invasion. So I don’t see why there’s any reason to think that Luke is somehow indispensable to the novel line from Del Rey. There’s been more excitement about the announcement of Drew Karpyshyn’s upcoming Revan novel than any of the recent Fate of the Jedi books, for example. Star Wars has succeeded on numerous fronts without Luke Skywalker, and I think the novels can do it, too.
Jason and Jimmy Mac are big fans of TCW, and an important part of what Dave Filoni does well is recognizing the many different ways fans are connected to Star Wars. He reminds us in panels that some kids have never seen Episodes III-VI. In fact, there is a whole generation of fans who believe Anakin Skywalker is the hero and that the troopers in white armor are the good guys. While I respect that to some Luke is Star Wars, I think it’s fair to say he’s not the most important thing in many fans’ Star Wars.
And of course, even if they do kill Luke in an EU novel, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of Luke stories – they can still go back in the timeline and fill in gaps. Mara Jade’s death was published four years ago this month, and two months from now we’ll get Timothy Zahn’s new novel Choices of One featuring her on the cover and as one of the main characters. In addition, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor was another highly regarded Matt Stover addition to the EU, even though it takes place over thirty years back on the timeline than the flagship storyline novels released the same year. So if there’s demand for some Luke stories after he’s dead, we’ll still be able to get them – without hamstringing the ongoing story arcs in the process.
Some movie fans are still holding onto hope that Episodes VII, VIII and IX will reach the big screen someday. I simply don’t see it happening, for any number of reasons. For one, I think Lucas is having too much fun right now playing in the prequels with TCW and in the Dark Times when the live-action series comes next. For another, in Lucas’ mind the saga has always been Darth Vader’s story, not Luke’s story. I just don’t think he has all that much interest in going back to the well with Luke. Finally, I think Lucas himself knows that he can’t just pick Luke’s character arc back up the way he could with the prequel characters for TCW. The amount of EU about Luke completely dwarfs the small amount of pre-TCW EU material impacted by TCW. Keeping the single continuity would be impossible while also trying to tell the story he envisioned. In the end Lucas would feel too hog-tied and have to throw the whole EU out. And, unlike TCW, I think he knows that, as a businessman, he just can’t go there, and that’s why I’ve argued I don’t think we’d see a post-ROTJ reboot. The loss of customer goodwill in the Star Wars franchise’s integrity would be too great; many fans would say, “They sold us all this stuff and now it’s meaningless.” Take what happened with Master Piell’s death and imagine it expanded to every fan of every post-ROTJ book, comic, and videogame, and it’s not hard to see that it would probably result in a rift within the fandom that would be devastating.
Mark Hamill, You’re Safe
I think Jason was trying to be funny when he suggested that my use of the term “real world” in the blog somehow could be read to refer to the actor who played the character. Obviously I didn’t mean to imply Mark Hamill should be looking over his shoulder, and I don’t think it’s amusing to imply that, even if intended as a joke.
My point is that the death of the character Luke Skywalker needs to be experienced by people; it needs to become incorporated into their understanding of Star Wars, just like we’ve experienced Padmé’s, Obi-wan’s, Yoda’s, and Anakin’s. Within the context of the blog “real world” was connected to a point in time for the event, not a person. Mark was one of my first big crushes as a teen in the late 80s, though, so I certainly wouldn’t mind him getting to enjoy a bit more of the Star Wars spotlight in the years ahead.
I’m glad the ForceCast spent some time on this topic, and I hope to see more discussion between fans and the Powers That Be on ways to revitalize the EU. Star Wars will only be better in the end for it.